How to Balance Your Newscasts

By Doug Drew 

The key to a successful newscast is one that has an appropriate balance of news and information spread evenly throughout the program. Many newscasts are out of balance. For instance, a newscast where the top is full of crime and spot news and the back half is nothing but sports and a kicker is certainly not in balance.

Don’t necessarily group negative stories together

Too often producers front load their newscasts with stories that just aren’t all that interesting to viewers. Often the lead story is about a murder, car accident or some other spot news event. If that spot news occurs shortly before the newscast and the story is still developing at air time (HAPPENING NOW), the viewer is usually interested.

However, hours-old spot news stories are often not as interesting to viewers as most news people think they are. And to compound the situation, producers often group the stories together: a murder is followed by a shooting, which is followed by a fire, which is followed by an accident, which is followed by a bank robbery, which is followed by a drowning, which is followed by the arrest of a child molester. And this is where viewers get really upset. It’s one of the most common complaints viewers have of local television news: “It’s all just bad news.”

We reinforce their perception by grouping all bad news together.

The solution

So how do you solve this issue? First of all, what viewers are really saying is that they want a balanced mix of the news, the good and the bad, and more importantly, they want to learn something new. Viewers want to be more knowledgeable after watching a newscast. They want to know what is going on in the community (the news of the day), but they also seek information that goes beyond the headlines.

Many newscasts have those extra stories that go beyond the news of the day, but if all the spot news stories are stacked together at the top of the show the viewer is likely to grow weary of the endless litany of “bad news” and tune out. They never get to the more in-depth, interesting, and relevant content.

If you have six spot news stories, there is absolutely no need to group them all together near the top of the show. And in fact, you are doing more harm than good when you do that. You are actually often driving viewers away. Avoid the back to back to back placement of “bad news.”

Placing stories evenly

During ratings periods, you often have a really good enterprise story somewhere high in the show (maybe even as a lead) and at least one viewer-benefit (teaseable) story later in the show. Those stories often take precedence over more routine stories. That same strategy should apply out of book as well. The solution to a balanced newscast is being thoughtful in placing stories evenly throughout the newscast every day.

Doug Drew is a morning news specialist with 602 Communications. You can reach him at ddrew@602communications.com.

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